The power of forgiveness

Posted on April 11, 2017 by Amy Tolmie

Easter week is upon us and school is out for the holidays. I hope you are able to have a break of some sort from the chaos of life in school and find some space to be refreshed, recharged and to reconnect with the Easter story for yourself. 

Why forgiveness?

A huge part of the Easter story for us as Christians is the forgiveness Jesus demonstrated to those who put him to death, but also the forgiveness offered to each of us in relationship with God as we confess and repent of the wrong we have done. The concept of forgiveness can be an overwhelming one and is at times hard to accept. Either because we feel we are unworthy of forgiveness, or because someone has done something big enough that feels too hard to forgive.

Working in schools, we come across situations all the time that require apologies and forgiveness... lies that have led to rumours going around school; arguments and fall outs between groups of friends; fights that not only cause physical but also emotional pain and a hundred other scenarios we are all familiar with.  Apologising and forgiving others is not often the first thing that comes to young people's minds, or even ours at times if we are honest. The natural feeling often is to want to retaliate, to hurt someone else or to get defensive and close ourselves off from others. Part of our role in schools is to help students in these situations to take a wider look; to consider all the factors and people involved and to try and see things from other's points of view. We cannot make someone else meaningfully apologise or forgive those who have hurt them or they have been hurt by; but we can talk them through the process and inspire them with what forgiveness can mean, or what genuinely apologising can mean for someone else. 

Restorative Justice

We may be involved with restorative practice or mediation between groups of friends or groups within schools. It can be a great model to use especially when you feel both sides would benefit from a controlled environment to hear more from the other's point of view, to resolve conflict and prevent future harm. Schools who embrace restorative practice approaches have seen increased attendance, reduced exclusions and improved achievement. It can help a school address a culture of bullying within a school and begin to see that change, along with classroom disruption and poor attendance. It could be between pupils, their families or members of staff and in its basic sense it enables those who have been harmed to convey the impact of the harm to those responsible, and for those responsible to acknowledge this impact and take steps to put it right.  This approach is most effective when it is applied throughout the whole school - with every staff member on board. If you don't know already, find out if your school has a whole-school approach to restorative practice. There is a lot of information on the Restorative Justice Council (RJC) website, with a list of principles you can download and apply to your own setting here.  Another website you may find useful is Restorative Justice 4 Schools

18 year old Jacob's story and the Forgiveness Project

"In 2011 Jacob Dunne fatally knocked a man to his death in an unprovoked attack. As a result he received a two-and-a-half-year custodial sentence for manslaughter of which he served 14 months. On leaving prison Jacob found himself homeless, unemployed and struggling to get his life back on track. In the end, with the encouragement of his victim’s parents (who he met in 2015 through a restorative justice charity), he embarked on a degree in Criminology at Nottingham Trent University." 

This is the beginning of a story on a website called The Forgiveness Project, which has a wealth of incredible stories illustrating forgiveness often in its most raw and vulnerable form. The stories often embrace the idea of restorative justice, with victims wanting to meet up with the perpetrators to ask questions and to forgive them. There are some very humbling reads. The website has a whole section dedicated to work within education and has a new resources section for schools. They explore themes of forgiveness, empathy, revenge and justice using real-life stories from across the world and are suitable for young people aged 14 and above. Click here to access their education resources.

Where this applies to Christian schools work

Use these stories and resources in your informal work in schools; in assemblies through stories that you tell or even in RE lessons on forgiveness and reconciliation. You can also share stories from your own life if appropriate and talk about what forgiveness means to you from your perspective as a Christian. If the school embrace restorative practice methods, consider if that is something you can help support.

I pray this Easter time that the message of Jesus giving his life for you will come alive to you in a new way; that you may enter into the story and learn more about forgiveness in your own life and that God will use you next term in amazing ways through your work in schools.